ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 9, no. 1:

Mauro Calcagno*

Monteverdi’s parole sceniche


Text/music relationships in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo are investigated from the perspective of deixis, the “pointing” function of language first studied in the 1930s by Karl Bühler and today an important area of linguistic pragmatics. A marker of ordinary language and of theater texts, deictics indicate person, time, and place. They are prominent in Striggio’s libretto and are musically highlighted by Monteverdi, starting with the opera Prologue. The composer goes so far as to modify the text in order to emphasize these expressions. In the lament “Tu se’ morta” the effect is of shifting the dramatic and psychological focus toward Orfeo’s subjectivity.

1.  Music and the Claims of oratione

2.  The “Pointing” Function in Language

3.  Deictics in the Prologue of L’Orfeo

4.  Monteverdi’s Alterations of the Libretto

5.  Conclusions




1. Music and the Claims of oratione

1.1 Giulio Cesare Monteverdi’s oft-quoted statement that his brother intended oratione to be “the mistress of the harmony” epitomizes the relationships between text and music in the style of seconda prattica. By using the term oratione (deriving from orare: to speak, to plead, to pray), Monteverdi refers to spoken rather than written texts. To cite a few examples of the uses of oratione: in his Istitutioni Harmoniche, Gioseffo Zarlino defines it as “speaking, which expresses attitudes via the narration of some story or tale” (il parlare, il quale esprime costumi col mezzo della narratione di alcuna historia, o favola). Giovanni Maria Artusi, in his Discorso secondo of 1608, defines oratione as “the perfection and beauty of speaking” (la perfezione e la bellezza del parlare). The entry oratione in the Vocabolario degli accademici della crusca (ed. 1680) gives: “simply speaking” (per lo favellare semplicemente). Finally, to approach the subject of our conference, a similar concept informs Jacopo Peri’s statements about recitative as being based on “speech” (favella) and on “ordinary speaking” (parlare ordinario).1

1.2 Like Monteverdi, Vincenzo Galilei also thought, humanistically, that music should imitate oratione. But he had in mind a particular kind of speech occurring under certain circumstances. In his Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (1581) he suggested that composers regularly attend the theater in order to learn how an actor speaks and acts differently according to his character’s social status (prince, servant, prostitute, wife), age (young girl, child), actions, and feelings (he lists: the imploring, the furious, the lover, the lamenter, the shouter, the fearful, the cheerful). Zarlino, in his Sopplimenti musicali, reacted rather negatively to Galilei’s advice: “O bel discorso …,” he exclaimed, “what he actually wishes is to reduce music greatly in dignity and reputation, when to learn imitation, he bids us to go to hear the zanies in tragedies and comedies and to become out-and-out actors and buffoons. What has the musician to do with those buffoons reciting in vulgar commedie dell’arte?” 2

1.3 Indeed a lot, we may answer today, if we consider the earliest operas as embodying the principle, advocated by Galilei, that music should imitate speech as delivered by theater actors who, in turn, strive to imitate ordinary language. It is from this perspective that I will examine some passages from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. But rather than focusing on music’s imitation of the sound of speech—as John Walter Hill thoroughly does in another paper for this conference (which I consider complementary to mine)—I deal instead with a feature of spoken texts currently being studied by linguists in the field of pragmatics: deixis, a term deriving from the Greek word meaning “to show,” “to point to,” “to indicate.”

2.  The “Pointing” Function in Language

2.1 In his Sprachtheorie of 1934, linguist Karl Bühler devotes a large section to what he calls deiktische Sprachzeichen or Zeigwörter (“deictic signs,” or “words that show”)3 He distinguishes them from another class of words called Nennwörter (“words that name”). Deictics do not characterize or qualify an object or a person, but, as the etymology of the word says, they “point to” someone or something, their function being that of situating human discourse. Bühler recognize three main kinds of deictics:

1) Spatial deictics: demonstrative pronouns, such as “this” and “that;” adverbs of space, such as “here” and “there.”

2) Temporal deictics: adverbs such as “now” and “then.”

3) Personal deictics: pronouns such as “I” and “you,” possessives such as “my” and “yours.”

2.2 The distinction between deictic words and naming words corresponds, in Bühler’s theory, to a larger one by which he divides language into two “fields”: the “index field” (Zeigfeld), to which deictics belong, and the “symbol field” (Symbolfeld), which includes naming words. These two fields, for Bühler, point to two autonomous and separate functions of language with respect to reality: first, the function of “intuitive pointing and presenting,” the field of which is generated by the situation of the linguistic utterance; and, second, the “abstract and conceptual grasping of the world,” the field of which originates from the context of the utterance.4 Bühler summarizes his “two-field” theory of language as follows:

In linguistic messages there are two … fundamental processes which we can and must distinguish in order to understand what is going on: … there is first pointing: things and processes are indicated. That is demonstratio; I prefer the Greek word deixis. Second, there is also representing: … objects and states of affairs are given a formulation in language and are symbolized by words that designate them in the symbolic field of language.5

2.3 Pointing, for Bühler, is the first and most fundamental human gesture, which connects body and mind to the external world. This gesture is embodied by human voice through deictics, i.e., words linking a linguistic utterance to its situation and anchoring the speaker and the hearer to the spatial and temporal coordinates of the speech event. Bühler singles out the three most primitive deictics, “here,” “now,” and “I,” indicating space, time, and person. He places them at the center of the index field, which he represents graphically through a circle intersected by two perpendiculars (he calls this center the ego-hic-nunc-origo of the field). All the other deictics—such as “that,” “there”; “then”; “you,” “he,” “it,” etc.—radiate, so to speak, from that point of origin. Deictics can be used in language in three different ways (Modus des Zeigens): by indicating someone or something physically present at the moment of the utterance (demonstratio ad oculos); by referring to someone or something absent (Deixis am Phantasma); and finally by indicating other words or sentences previously used within speech itself (anaphora, as in “Having said this, I would add …”).

2.4 Since Bühler, the theory of deixis has been widely developed, not only in linguistic pragmatics but also in such diverse fields as theater semiotics and anthropology, becoming as fruitful a notion as that of the performative utterance, also originating in linguistics.6 Opera studies have so far neglected the study of deixis, as well as other aspects of language studied by pragmatics, such as speech acts. Yet, if we assume that, at the dawn of operatic history, the efforts of composers were directed at imitating speech (oratione), then we should also hold a view of language that goes beyond the one commonly taken for granted, in which the function of language is merely to express emotion and affect (a part of the all-too-binding heritage of Affektenlehre). Indeed, in their settings musicians such as Monteverdi were not only emphasizing words carrying affective and symbolic meanings, but also those words which—as deictics—highlight what linguists call utterance-meaning.7

3.  Deictics in the Prologue of L’Orfeo

3.1 The text of the Prologue of L’Orfeo shows remarkable regularity as far as the recurrence of deictics is concerned (see text 1, figure 1a [libretto, title page], and figure 1b [libretto, Prologo]).8 Striggio strategically places the three most primitive deictics (Io, qui[nci], and ora) at the beginning of strophes 2 to 5. But the first strophe also emphasizes the function of the “pointing words.” The deictics mio and voi, appearing in the first line, immediately define the stage situation as one determined by a character (La Musica) who first refers to herself (“my”) and then addresses the audience (“you”). In establishing a channel of communication with the public (historically, the Gonzaga family), the singer may choose to reinforce the meaning of these words through a gesture directed first toward herself and then toward the audience (deictic words, as we have noted above, are suited to being associated with body movements). Furthermore, as far as the first line is concerned, motion is verbally suggested by symmetrically pairing the opening “from” (Dal) with the deictic verb “come” (vegno), referring to the character’s physical motion from the river Permesso to the stage (a passage evoked, as John Whenham notices, by the ritornello music).9

3.2 By using deictics at the beginning of each strophe, La Musica effectively establishes the personal, spatial, and temporal coordinates of the opera. As a stage-art, opera is a genre that shares characteristics with spoken theater, as distinct from narrative and poetry. As drama scholar Keir Elam claims, theater is a form of communication characterized by the fact that, on stage, an “I” addresses a “you” “here” and “now.” 10 In the first strophe, as we have seen, La Musica addresses the public (i.e., an “I” addresses a “you”). In the following two strophes, she emphasizes her subjectivity by starting each of them with the word Io. In strophes four and five, instead, the main spatial and temporal coordinates are highlighted, Qui and Hora (“here” and “now”). The function of Hora is to prepare the beginning of the action about to start in Act I, which, as we shall see, again stresses the temporal element.

3.3 The emphasis on “I” is particularly relevant. La Musica in fact introduces herself not only by naming herself but by singing her name: Io la Musica son. Considering that in 1607 opera was a newborn genre in need of justifying its very existence, it is significant that it is she, Music (and not, say, Tragedy, as in Peri’s Euridice) who establishes all three dramatic coordinates through deixis. La Musica’s gesture is even more powerful in that it is echoed at the dramatic climax of the opera, in Orfeo’s “Possente Spirto,” exactly at the symmetrical center of the whole work: Orfeo son io, the protagonist sings at the outset of the fourth of six tercets (thus again in central position).11 Striggio thus draws a connection between the Prologue and the very center of the opera, associating La Musica with Orfeo and using the most basic expression in human language: Io sono. Implicit here is the idea that only on the stage does music acquire its real self, i.e., only when time and space explicitly define it—music being an intrinsically theatrical art.

3.4 The emphasis on the first personal deictic in the Prologue is a convention of Renaissance spoken theater, as can be seen in the first and second prologues of Ludovico Dolce, La Marianna (1565; text 2) and in the prologue of Pietro Aretino, L’Oratia (1546; text 3).12 The “I” opening was the most obvious choice also for the first opera librettist, Ottavio Rinuccini, as we see in the prologues to his Narciso (ca. 1608; text 4) and L’Arianna (1608; text 5).13 Finally, Rinuccini’s prologue for Euridice begins with the word Io (text 6).14 In writing the Orfeo Prologue for Monteverdi, Striggio follows Rinuccini’s strategy, but somewhat more rigidly. As we have seen, he provides the composer with five strophes, each beginning with a deictic expression, thus isolating five discursive “blocks,” similar in their communicative function.

3.5 Monteverdi’s strophic setting (see figure 2a, figure 2b, figure 2c, figure 2d, figure 2e, and figure 2f) parallels these blocks articulated around the deictic expressions, the repeated bass unifying and delimiting these units. The melodic long notes placed on each of the five deictics emphasize them. The stable harmony that supports the beginning of the melody of each strophe clearly isolates and emphasizes these keywords. Both harmony and melody work to dramatize the opening declamatory style, itself set into relief by its contrast with the subsequent melodiousness of the strophe. Once he firmly establishes the origin of the “index field” (to again follow Bühler’s terminology), Monteverdi actually shifts gears and freely explores the symbolic (descriptive) meaning of the words: in varying the melodic setting of each strophe, he investigates through musical means the “symbol field” of language, that is, he highlights the context, more than the situation to which language refers (see paragraph 2.2 above). After the first half-line of each strophe, the focus of Monteverdi’s musical setting is no longer the establishment of the theatrical-musical situation—i.e., the index field associated with deictic words—but the musical reference to the context embodied in the descriptive meaning of the words, i.e., the symbol field represented by naming words. Thus, for example, in the second strophe, the meaning of tranquillo (“quiet”) is musically opposed to that of ira (“wrath”) and of gelate (“frozen”), while in the third strophe the meaning of armonia sonora (“sonorous harmony,” in line 3) dominates the setting.15 Finally, the musical rests in the fifth strophe evoke the Arcadian context to which the words allude. In this respect, text and music relate to each other as they do, for example, in a madrigal, in which it is not necessary to specify the situation, and music highlights words bearing symbolic (descriptive) meaning rather than those with deictic meaning.

3.6 In the Prologue of Orfeo it is especially the strophic bass, rather than the melody, that has, musically speaking, a larger deictic function. It works as a compass that anchors the whole setting and frees the melody to explore images, affects, and emotions, paralleling in this respect the “orientating” function of the deictic words placed at the beginning of each strophe. It is hard to imagine a better match of text and music, of oratione and harmonia, both converging in their full semantic potential.

4.  Monteverdi’s Alterations of the Libretto

4.1 The musical setting of L’Orfeo may be examined from the two perspectives outlined in the previous sections, that is, by distinguishing the words pointing at the situation (belonging to the index field of language) from those referring to the context and embodying more descriptive meanings (symbol field). For example, Act I opens by strongly emphasizing temporality through the words In questo lieto e fortunato giorno, in which a deictic word (referring to the situation occurring, at that very moment, on the stage) is followed by words belonging to the symbolic domain (see text 7 and figure 3). Questo is a spatial deictic, but here it refers to giorno and thus assumes a temporal connotation (again, as in the Prologue, we may imagine the character on stage using a gesture to indicate the day shining around him). This emphasis on temporality continues in the second strophe via two other deictics: Oggi fatt’è pietosa / l’alma già sì sdegnosa / de la bella Euridice, a sentence paralleled by the following Oggi fatt’è felice / Orfeo nel sen di lei … . This parallel construction is reflected in Monteverdi’s setting (figure 4a and figure 4b).

4.2 We may remember at this point that the opening scene of Rinuccini’s L’Euridice also features deictics in prominent places. Howard Mayer Brown noticed that both Peri and Caccini “isolate the two e voi’s at the beginning of the third and fifth lines for emphasis. But,” Brown continues, “Peri manages to isolate them without letting the impetus stop completely.”16 Monteverdi, I would add, goes a step further than Peri and Caccini. In L’Orfeo, as we now shall see, he even modifies the libretto to add his own deictics. Furthermore, in his later operas he finds different ways to highlight them (and always for specific dramatic purposes), for example by repeating them or by changing meter at their appearance.17 In the final part of this paper I would like to examine three instances in which Monteverdi modifies Striggio’s libretto for L’Orfeo in order to emphasize deixis.

4.3 In Act I, immediately after the choir’s “Vieni Imeneo,” Ninfa’s lines appear in the libretto as in text 8 and figure 5. But in the score (figure 6) Monteverdi changes the libretto’s vostro Orfeo (line 5) to nostro Orfeo. This could be mistaken for a misprint, but the composer’s intention is highlighted by the second modification he makes to Striggio’s text. The last line of Ninfa’s stanza becomes in Monteverdi’s setting “Sia il vostro canto al nostro suon concorde” (be your singing in concord with our sound). The result of this change is that the opposition between vostro and nostro is much stronger in Monteverdi’s version. In Striggio’s line, the accents would fall on:

            col vòstro suòn nostr’àrmonìa s’accòrde;

whereas Monteverdi’s version changes them into:

            Sia’l vòstro cànto al nòstro suòn concòrde.

Thus the composer, by metrically accenting both deictics (vostro and nostro), is now able to build a musical parallelism between Sia’l vostro canto and al nostro suon. He could not have achieved the same result by setting Striggio’s original line. In this light, the change of vostro into nostro in line 5 makes sense as preparing the opposition emphasized in line 8 between those same two deictics: the Muses, Ninfa says, have their own cetre sonore (vostre cetre sonore in line 3, paralleled by vostro canto in line 8); however—Ninfa adds in line 5—Orfeo belongs to the pastoral world, to us: he is the nostro Orfeo (which is paralleled by the nostro suon concorde in line 8). Both the alteration of the libretto and the musical setting contribute to clarifying this situation.

4.4 Through the second modification of the libretto, Monteverdi emphasizes the “indicating” role of the deictic ecco (meaning “here is,” or “there is”). At the end of Act I, in the chorus, the composer adds the word Ecco immediately before the line Orfeo, di cui pur dianzi / furon cibo …, / oggi felice è tanto, and also omits several lines before the act’s close (see in figure 7 the text from the original libretto, on which I superimpose Monteverdi’s “corrections”; the score is in figure 8a, figure 8b, and figure 8c).18 The added word “Ecco” points at Orfeo, who is evidently now returning to the stage, right before he starts Act II with the words Ecco pur ch’a voi ritorno (in which not only Ecco, but also voi and ritorno are deictic expressions). Undoubtedly, Monteverdi’s modifications of the libretto are a stroke of genius from the theatrical point of view, since the result is that Orfeo’s re-entrance is more effectively prepared (actually, it is visually anticipated and may be emphasized through a gesture matching the word Ecco sung by the chorus). In this way, Monteverdi uses a deictic to accomplish a smoother transition between two acts.

4.5 The third and final modification of the libretto is the most radical one, and occurs in Act II, in Orfeo’s celebrated “Tu se’ morta.” (text 9; figure 9 [libretto] and figure10 [score]) Not only does the composer alter the libretto text but he further modifies it through extensive text repetition, as in no other place in the opera. The lines of Striggio’s text:

Tu se’ morta mia vita, ed io respiro?
tu se’, tu se’ pur ita
per mai più non tornare, ed io rimango?

become in Monteverdi’s version:

Tu se’ morta [se morta] mia vita ed io respiro
Tu se’ da me partita [se da me partita]
Per mai più [mai più] non tornare ed io rimango

Striggio’s version includes three second-person deictics (tu) and three first-person dectics (mia and, twice, io). Monteverdi instead shifts the dramatic and psychological focus to Orfeo’s subjectivity by adding two instances of da me and eliminating one instance of tu.19 Furthermore, the repetition of se’ morta and mai più points to the fact that, for Orfeo, his identity is inextricably tied to a temporal dimension—one now tragically defined by Euridice’s death.

5. Conclusions

5.1 In this study I have made use of Bühler’s distinction between the symbolic and the indexical, between naming and pointing, and thus between the two meanings of verbal language that opera composers reflect in their settings, the descriptive and the deictic. In operatic music, unlike madrigals and cantatas, it is insufficient for the composer to highlight only the first type of meaning. Madrigalisms or expressions of the emotional content of single words or sentences must be complemented by an emphasis on those words of the text which point to the dramatic situation—who is singing, when, and where—occurring at the moment in which the sung words are uttered. In L’Orfeo, Monteverdi freely modifies the libretto in order to underline these words, transforming them into “parole sceniche” (to use Verdi’s expression), so that they too enhance the total dramatic effect.20


*Mauro Calcagno ( is Assistant Professor of Music at Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 2000 with a dissertation on Francesco Cavalli’s operas. For 2002–03 he received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to work on a book on voice and subjectivity in late Renaissance and early Baroque Italy. He has recently published an article on Monteverdi’s operas in the Journal of the American Musicological Society.

1. Giulio Cesare Monteverdi’s statement—la sua intentione è stata (in questo genere di Musica) di far che l’oratione sia padrona del armonia e non serva—is found in his “Dichiaratione della lettera stampata nel quinto libro de’ suoi madregali” appended to Claudio’s Scherzi musicali of 1607 (see Domenico de’ Paoli, Claudio Monteverdi: Lettere, dediche e prefazioni [Rome: De Santis, 1973], 396). The quotation of Zarlino is from the 1573 edition of his Istituzioni Harmoniche, on p. 84; that of Artusi is from his Discorso secondo musicale di Antonio Braccino da Todi (Venice 1608), 3; finally, Peri’s words are found in his preface “Ai lettori” of Le musiche … sopra l’Euridice (Florence 1600). The documents by Monteverdi and Peri from which the passages are excerpted are translated in Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History, revised edition, ed. Leo Treitler (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1998), 659–662 and 536–544.

2. The passage from Vincenzo Galilei’s Dialogo … della musica antica et della moderna (Florence 1581) reads as follows:

Quando [i musici] per lor diporto vanno alle Tragedie et Comedie, che recitano i Zanni, lascino alcuna volta da parte le immoderate risa; et in lor vece osservino di gratia in qual maniera parla, con qual voce circa l’acutezza et gravità, con che quantità di suono, con qual sorte d’accenti et di gesti, come profferite quanto alla velocità et tardità del moto, l’uno con l’altro quieto gentilhuomo; attendino un poco la differenza che occorre tra tutte quelle cose, quando uno di essi parla con un suo servo, overo l’uno con l’altro di questi; considerino quando ciò accade al Principe discorrendo con un suo suddito et vassallo; quando al supplicante nel raccomandarsi; come ciò faccia l’infuriato, o concitato; come la donna maritata; come la fanciulla; come il semplice putto; come l’astuta meretrice; come l’innamorato nel parlare con la sua amata mentre cerca disporla alle sue voglie; come quelli che si lamenta; come quelli che grida; come il timoroso; e come quelli che esulta d’allegrezza; da quali diversi accidenti, essendo da essi con attentione avvertiti et con diligenza essaminati, potranno pigliar norma di quello che convenga per l’espressione di qual si voglia altro concetto che venire gli potesse tra mano. (p. 89)

It is translated in Strunk, Source Readings (465–66) as follows:

When they [i.e., musicians] go for their amusement to the tragedies and comedies that the mummers act, let them a few times leave off their immoderate laughing, and instead be so good as to observe, when one quiet gentleman speaks with another, in what manner he speaks, how high or low his voice is pitched, with what volume of sound. with what sort of accents and gestures, and with what rapidity or slowness his words are uttered. Let them mark a little what difference obtains in all these things when one of them speaks with one of his servants, or one of these with another; let them observe the prince when he chances to be conversing with one of his subjects and vassals; when with the petitioner who is entreating his favor; how the man infuriated or excited speaks; the married woman, the girl, the mere child, the clever harlot, the lover speaking to his mistress as he seeks to persuade her to grant his wishes, the man who laments, the one who cries out, the timid man, and the man exultant with joy. From these variations of circumstance, if they observe them attentively and examine them with care, they will be able to select the norm of what is fitting for the expression of any other conception whatever that can call for their handling.

Strunk quotes in a footnote (n. 7, p. 466) the passage from the Sopplimenti musicali in which Gioseffo Zarlino harshly criticizes Galileo’s remarks:

O bel discorso veramente degno di grande Huomo, com’egli si reputa; dal quale si può ben comprendere, che ei vuole in fatto ridur la Musica in gran dignità et reputatione; quando essorta che si vada ad ascoltar nelle Commedie et nelle Tragedie i Zanni, et si diventi in tutto et per tutto Histrioni o Buffoni, per poter imitare ogn’uno; ma che ha da fare il Musico con quelli che recitano Tragedie o Commedie? (Zarlino, Sopplimenti musicali [Venice: Appresso Francesco de’ Franceschi Sanese, 1588], p. 317).

3. See Karl Bühler, Sprachtheorie. Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache (Jena: G. Fischer, 1934), chapter II: “Das Zeigield der Sprache und die Zeigwörter,” 79–148. The book is translated into English as Theory of Language. The Representational Function of Language, trans. Donald Fraser Goodwin (Amsterdam-Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1990).

4. Quoted in Robert E. Innis, Karl Bühler: Semiotic Foundations of Language Theory (New York: Plenum Press, 1982), 19, a study in which Bühler’s two-field theory of language is elucidated (pp. 19–41).

5. Quoted in Goodwin’s “Introduction” to Bühler, Theory of Language, xxxviii, from one of the linguist’s unpublished manuscripts.

6. For an extensive treatment of deixis in pragmatics see the standard textbook by Stephen Levinson, Pragmatics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), chapter 2. See also the classic study by John Lyons, Semantics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), vol. 2, pp. 636–724. For deixis in theater studies see Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London-New York: Methuen, 1980), Vimala Herman, Dramatic Discourse: Dialogue As Interaction in Plays (London-New York: Routledge, 1995), and Pietro Trifone, “L’italiano a teatro,” in Luca Serianni and Pietro Trifone, eds., Storia della lingua italiana, vol. II: “Scritto e parlato” (Turin: Einaudi, 1994), 84–86. For anthropology, see Alessandro Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. 207–13. Linguists and semioticians have used also other terms for “deictics,” such as “shifters” (Roman Jakobson), “indexicals” (Charles S. Pierce), and “embrayeurs” (Emile Benveniste).

7. See John Lyons, Linguistic Semantics: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Alan Cruse, An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). I explore aspects of utterance meaning, as related to speech acts, in my “Staging Musical Discourses in Seventeenth-Century Venice: Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabalo (1667),” Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2000: 235–86.

8. Deictics are henceforth underlined in quotations from libretto and theater texts. In line 1 of the text of the Prologue, the word vegno (I come) is also underlined as having a deictic quality. In fact, after Bühler, linguists have extended the notion of deixis to cover verbs of motion like “to go” and “to come,” and even shifts of verb tenses.

9. For a perceptive commentary on this and on the other passages examined in my study, see John Whenham, “Five Acts: One Action,” in Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo, ed. John Whenham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 42–77.

10. See Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre, 139.

11. For this connection and the relevance of the issue of subjectivity in Orfeo see Ståle Wikshåland, “Monteverdi’s Voices: the Construction of Subjectivity,” paper given at the conference “Baroque Bridges: Music, Poetry, and the Visual Arts in Seventeenth-Century Italy,” held at Yale University, April 14–15, 2000.

12. The examples are included in Teatro del Cinquecento. Tomo I. La Tragedia, ed. Renzo Cremante (Milan: Ricciardi, 1988), 746, 755, 582.

13. See Angelo Solerti, Gli albori del melodramma, 3 vols. (Milan: Sandron, 1904; reprint, Bologna: Forni, 1976), vol. 2.1 (Ottavio Rinuccini), 147, 191.

14. Solerti, Gli albori, 2.1:115. Notice Rinuccini’s strategy, in the second strophe of the prologues of L’Arianna and Euridice, of placing the adverb expressing negation, non, twice at the beginning of the line. Furthermore, in these strophes, he places the verbs stampo and canto (both predicates with respect to the subject Io in the first strophe) in the fourth line. In Narciso, as in the first line of Orfeo, Rinuccini also emphasizes both motion (through the deictic verb vegno, “I come”) and the addressee of the act of communication (through the deictic “you,” voi). The expression “I come” and the address to the public (which Roman Jakobson would characterize as an emphasis on the “conative function” of language) are also found in other Renaissance prologues, such as in Sperone Speroni’s La Canace (Venice 1546), Ombra: Uscito dello ’nferno / vegno al vostro cospetto … (see Teatro del Cinquecento, 463–465).

15. For this line the composer changes the libretto text “e in guisa tal de l’harmonia sonora” into a smoother “e in questa guisa a l’armonia sonora,” replacing the word tal with the more effective deictic questa. For more on Monteverdi’s alterations of the Orfeo libretto see below, section 4.

16. See Howard Mayer Brown, “How Opera Began: An Introduction to Jacopo Peri’s Euridice (1600),” The Late Italian Renaissance, 1525–1630, ed. Eric Cochrane (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 401–44: 434.

17. I investigate this issue more extensively, as well as others explored here, in my article “‘Imitar col canto chi parla’: Monteverdi and the Creation of a Language for Musical Theater,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 55 (2002): 383–431.

18. This modification of the libretto was first pointed out by Whenham in “Five Acts: One Action,” 53.

19. In this passage, the second-person pronoun Tu is an instance of what Bühler defines as Deixis am Phantasma. I disagree with Gary Tomlinson’s negative evaluation of Striggio’s libretto as compared to Rinuccini’s for Euridice (see Gary Tomlinson, “Madrigal, Monody, and Monteverdi’s ‘via naturale alla immitatione’,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 34 [1981], 60–108: 69–70, 80–86; Tomlinson was the first to comment on Monteverdi’s reworking of the text of “Tu se’ morta”). Striggio’s lines, for Tomlinson, are “ineffective and prosaic” and lack “the structural musicality of Rinuccini’s verse, the melic expression of the meaning of the text in its sound and form that is bound up with Peri’s musical setting in L’Euridice” (84, 85). Tomlinson compares text and setting of “Tu se’ morta” with the parallel passage in Peri’s L’Euridice (“Non piango, e non sospiro”) claiming that “Monteverdi obliterates the structure of Striggio’s verse in order to restore the psychological realism of Rinuccini’s version … . Composer and poet,” he concludes, “are often at odds in Orfeo” (85, 86). However, Striggio’s frequent use of deictics—a marker of dramatic language (see reference 6 above)—indicates that the text of L’Orfeo is indeed more theatrical than that of L’Euridice, in which deictics are scarcer and language more poetic (Tomlinson speaks in contrast of the “poetic inadequacy” of Striggio’s text). That Monteverdi’s reading of Striggio’s libretto, as I show in my paper, often results in an emphasis on deictics attests to the congruity of intention between librettist and composer. Monteverdi highlights characteristics that are already present in the text, as in the case of “Tu se’ morta.” Notice, for example, that in this passage the opposition between “I” and “you,” already present in the first three lines of the libretto and inflected by Monteverdi towards Orfeo’s subjectivity, is carried on by Striggio in the contrast between “meco” and “teco” in the following lines (line 7: “meco trarrotti a riveder le stelle”; line 9: “rimarrò teco in compagnia di morte”). An evaluation of a libretto text, as that by Tomlinson, based on its poetic qualities (or done by comparing it with the illustrious tradition of Petrarch, Tasso, and Guarini) misses the point, in that theater aims at creating its own language, one which mediates between ordinary and poetic language. In this respect, Striggio’s text is more successful than that of Rinuccini; consequently Monteverdi’s music can be more effective from the theatrical point of view, serving, as a contemporaneous listener said, “the poetry so well that it could not be surpassed” (“La musica … serve sì bene alla poesia che non si può sentir meglio,” Cherubino Ferrari as quoted in Tomlinson, 80). For the issue of librettos intended as theater texts see my “‘Imitar col canto chi parla’,” 386–91.

20. For the expression “parola scenica” in Verdi’s letters and for its critical reception, see Fabrizio Della Seta, “‘Parola scenica’ in Verdi e nella critica verdiana,” in Fiamma Nicolodi and Paolo Trovato, eds, Studi sulla lingua della letteratura musicale in onore di Gianfranco Folena, vol. 1 of Le parole della musica (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1994), 259–86.


Text 1: Alessandro Striggio, Prologue to La favola d’Orfeo, 1607

Text 2: Ludovico Dolce, prologues to La Marianna, 1565

Text 3: Pietro Aretino, Prologue to L’Oratia, 1546

Text 4: Ottavio Rinuccini, from Prologue to Narciso, ca. 1608

Text 5: Ottavio Rinuccini, from Prologue to L’Arianna, 1608

Text 6: Ottavio Rinuccini, Prologue to Euridice, 1600

Text 7: Alessandro Striggio, “In questo lieto e fortunato giorno,” from La favola d’Orfeo, Act I

Text 8: Alessandro Striggio, “Muse honor di Parnaso,” from La favola d’Orfeo, Act I

Text 9: Alessandro Striggio, “Tu se’ morta,” from La favola d’Orfeo, Act II



Figure 1a: Frontispiece of the first edition of the libretto for L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, text by Alessandro Striggio (Mantua: Osanna, 1607)

Figure 1b: Striggio, La favola d’Orfeo: Prologue

Figure 2a: Frontispiece of the first printed edition of the score of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (Venice: Amadino, 1607)

Figure 2b: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo: Prologue, strophe 1 (p. 1)

Figure 2c: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo: Prologue, strophe 2 (p. 2)

Figure 2d: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo: Prologue, strophe 3 (p. 3)

Figure 2e: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo: Prologue, strophe 4 (p. 4)

Figure 2f: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo: Prologue, strophe 5 (p. 5)

Figure 3: Striggio, La favola d’Orfeo, beginning of Act 1

Figure 4a: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, beginning of Act 1: Pastore: “In questo lieto e fortunato giorno … Oggi fatta è pietosa” (p. 6)

Figure 4b: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, beginning of Act 1, continuation: “… Oggi fatto è felice” (p. 7)

Figure 5: Striggio, La favola d’Orfeo, Act I: Ninfa: “Muse honor di Parnaso”

Figure 6: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, Act I: Ninfa: “Muse honor di Parnaso”

Figure 7: Striggio, La favola d’Orfeo, end of Act 1 and beginning of Act 2. Monteverdi’s main libretto revisions are highlighted through markings superimposed on the original text.

Figure 8a: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, end of Act 1: Chorus: “Ecco Orfeo cui pur dianzi” (p. 25)

Figure 8b: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, end of Act 1, Sinfonia (p. 26)

Figure 8c: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, beginning of Act 2: Orfeo: “Ecco pur ch’a voi ritorno” (p. 27)

Figure 9: Striggio, La favola d’Orfeo, Act 2: Orfeo: “Tu se’ morta”

Figure 10: Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, Act 2: Orfeo: “Tu se’ morta” (beginning, p. 39)

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